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A Backyard Rocker Sunday Afternoon
October 5, 2009 - Jim Price
Longtime listeners to my weekly Sunday night local music radio program on Rocky 104.9, “The Homegrown Rocker,” know that the program used to be called “The Backyard Rocker” on its previous radio dial address, the now-extinct Q94.
On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 3, I experienced a literal “Backyard Rocker” get-together near Greenwood, as a who’s who of Altoona musical talent converged on an informal backyard picnic and jam session hosted by Square One singer/guitarist Don Osborn. For almost five hours, the music was nonstop as a cavalcade of musicians literally played ‘musical chairs,’ stepping on and off the stage to perform alongside one another. The results were often jaw-droppingly good, as musical magic abounded from the various combinations of the assembled talent.
By my count, at least 15 different musicians partook in the festivities throughout the afternoon. I witnessed the fun and camaraderie as seasoned longtime local music veterans like Chuck Knepper and Tom Rhodes performed alongside relative newcomers like Don Osborn’s son, Sean Osborn, and Colton Fouse. Other participants during the course of the afternoon included Don Osborn, Allan Robison, Bill Hunter, Jim Colyer, Beau Saller, Mark Rossi, Bill Hocherl, and the band Issues (John McKelvey, Skip Fisher, Bob “Zorbo” Slovikosky and Nikki Lykens).
Because this was an informal jam session get-together and picnic, I left my notepad in the car and didn’t diagram the various breakdowns of performers on each song. But the musical variety was wide and colorful, as the musicians mixed it up on classic rock, blues and pop favorites. The songs ranged from improvisational workouts of Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” to Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Ohio” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy,” to Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” and many more. The jam sessions took a brief breather midway through the afternoon as the band Issues, introducing new singer Nikki Lykens, performed a mini-set of their original songs.
The sun occasionally peaked through the clouds, and the temperature began to fall as evening arrived. Shortly after 7 p.m., the jam session and picnic came to a close, so the musicians could break down their gear and get home to their televisions in time for the Steelers’ 8 p.m. kickoff.
Several times as I witnessed the musical fireworks, I pondered if it would be possible for a jam session like this to happen in a more public setting, such as the Blair County Arts Festival or the Altoona First Festival; so larger audiences could discover and experience the vast wealth of musical talent we have here in our own backyard. But it also occurred to me that magical jam session occasions like these often are most effective when they happen naturally and spontaneously like this one; rather than scheduled, rehearsed and scripted. Trying to replicate a loose and fun occasion like this in a more formal setting would probably remove some of the improvisational magic and fun vibe, especially if a transient crowd of casual festival passers-by paid little or no attention to the performers.
So this impromptu jam session and get-together was probably best left to the friends and family members who showed up to take it all in. The true music fans who were there understood the special vibe that came together on this autumn Sunday afternoon.
Father and son; Don and Sean Osborn, performing at Sunday's jam session.